How to Cut Costs When Cutting Your Film

Top filmmaker and documentary consultant Karen Everett discusses fast track editing: the art of getting films to editors, and working with them at all stages of production. 

by Christopher Eyte

WHEN it comes to experience in the film industry, it would be hard to beat the achievements of Karen Everett.  As one of the world’s leading documentary story consultants, Karen is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has taught editing skills for nearly 20 years at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California. Karen owns New Doc Editing, a pioneering editing and consulting business helping filmmakers structure compelling documentaries for venues such as PBS, HBO, Sundance and other top film festivals.

Karen Everett

One of the first questions Karen asks a director is, “What are the seven top ideas’ needing to be created in the film?”

Karen is a fount of wisdom when it comes to making documentary films and shared it during her visit with Carole Dean of From the Heart Productions on The Art of Film Funding Podcast.

In particular, she has some great tips on logging guidance: how to get out of production into post-editing and best methods for a successful rough-cut screening. As a professional who has notched 30 years in the industry, one of the most exciting changes Karen has seen is the rise of inspiring documentaries, as she calls them, as opposed to films preoccupied with ‘what’s wrong with the world’ such as homelessness and climate change.

Audiences want positive social action documentaries

“I think [those films] were needed at the time to open our eyes but I recently read that Jerry Seinfeld said documentaries have a reputation for being ‘incredibly depressing’. That’s changing. For example, people will go to see a film that is about a Supreme Court justice who fought her way up the ladder, or about Fred Rogers. These [new] films focus on protagonists who are doing something, they’re not burying their head in the sand, they’re doing something to change the world.”

The new focus in modern documentaries means that filmmakers and media bodies such as CNN are choosing stories which are more positive and meaningful, according to Karen. There’s still a role for investigative documentaries in her opinion, but her story consulting work is seeing documentary makers taking a more positive emphasis on social issues. 

Accelerated Post: 10 weeks to completed edit

Karen knows the challenges of funding film making and that is why she is supportive of the sterling work by From the Heart Productions. Her own business, New Doc Editing, is focused on lowering the costs of making films. The editor’s input plays a key factor in that budgeting, as well as time taken in editing. A one-hour PBS documentary edit used to take about six months to edit the 30 hours of footage. Karen says that her company’s new program, called Accelerated Post, will edit the documentary in 10 weeks or less, with a weekly editing fee of $3,000. It is a fast-track, post-production process. 

“Frankly, if you’re paying less than that for an editor, I would seriously check their credentials. One of the reasons we can do it in 10 weeks is because our handpicked editors, they’re in the top five per cent of editors and they’re good… fast! And you also get me as a story consultant. We hone in quickly on the filmmaker’s vision and what needs to happen to execute that. Is it going to be a story-driven documentary? We need to get really clear on the structure of the film before we start editing. If there’s not a story (in the sense of a character on a quest), then it’s probably an essay-style film.”

One of the first questions Karen asks is, “what are the seven top ideas’ needing to be created in the film. The director is then guided to cut footage down to 30 hours – overshot is a common issue. The first three weeks are then spent working on an assembly cut, getting the best footage together. A couple of two-week rough cuts will follow, working out the film structure, story and employment of characters. Lastly there will be a two-week fine cut and a week for the picture lock. 

Your job is to deliver a protagonist/character-driven film to New Doc Editing

Karen doesn’t promise strict timings for the process ‘because it’s not up to us when a film is done’ – but she knows how to speed up the process. The guideline for getting it down to 30 hours is to create a sequence if it’s a protagonist/character-driven film. The character is on a quest so using text on screen and markers helps to gather the plot points. She advises choosing the key moment in a given scene and then ‘throw that into a sequence of plot points’. Surrounding clips can then build the scene and separate sequences created for each main character. This helps to see the story and if it’s sustainable. 

The director’s top seven ideas in the film might involve seven sequences focused on ideas in the documentary. This can seem a lot of work when logging for the edit ‘when you’re sitting before a mountain of footage’ but if you follow certain techniques, Karen finds the process is not so time consuming and boring. 

It’s your choices that quicken the edit

Karen Everett

Karen Everett of New Doc Editing

“Your mind has to be very sharp because you’ve got this list of criteria: the key plot points, the key ideas in your making. You’ve just got to force yourself to make a decision about, for example, if two people say the same thing, which person says it best?” Karen’s final tip is technical: don’t rename your clips, which are six-digit or alphabet/numerical titles. “The camera gives it. If you rename it, then it can be hard to read, link the footage and slow down.”

Can we trust her editors? Karen believes trust is key – finding that the person who fits and feels right for the work; and also trust in terms of experience and credentials. She only hires editors that have two feature documentaries ‘under their belts that have won awards’. A good editor should also be humble, willing to give a point of view but respect your editorial authority. Directors should at the same time have a vision and convey it, according to Karen. 

You must tell us up front what is the protagonist’s ‘statement of desire’

But how do directors know when the filming is enough and it’s time for post-production? Karen says overshooting is a common mistake. The answer is ‘being clear about what the film is about’. Talking to a story consultant such as Karen will help give this clarity.

Being clear about the story is crucial so the viewer doesn’t have to second-guess the focus of the film. Karen calls this a ‘rule of thumb’ that the protagonist’s ‘statement of desire’ is made clear within the first five minutes of the film. An inciting incident, something happening to the character, will proceed this and galvanize the protagonist into embarking on the quest.

Karen adds that the importance of conversations is too often overlooked for character stories. She says documenting relationships in films ‘is very juicy’. Filming conversations, such as between two antagonists (e.g. as in Michael Moore’s films) is inherently dynamic and ‘often more fruitful than an additional solo interview or pick-up interview’. 

How to save money with a story consultant

Story consultants, known as story editors in Hollywood, are fairly new in the world of documentaries and people don’t always budget for them. Even so, it’s helpful to have their input at both pre and post- production stage. Questioning the story basis and whether it is cutting edge is important, according to Karen: “A lot of filmmakers will, for example, want to make a film about Alzheimer’s Disease and following this amazing couple that they met and yet this kind of film has done before. So again, what can you add that’s new?”

Finding a story consultant saves money because it helps filmmakers be clearer about how to direct the camera. Some trailers don’t tell the story or the essence of the real film, and Karen believes that’s a big problem. “What is the central question that you are trying to answer? Or what is the thesis statement, the key idea that you are trying to… the case you’re trying to make?” 

New Doc Editing offers professional help with editing documentaries that inspire. Karen adds: “I have a new website with lots of beautiful portfolio pieces of films we’ve worked on. Check it out!”

Find out more via newdocediting.com or drop Karen an email via karen@newdocediting.com 

 

Chris & Céline Eyte, a husband-and-wife team, own Resurrect Media which is a premier news and content marketing agency based in Abergavenny, South Wales. Their mission is to tell the stories of clients by creating written or visual content, which is simply fantastic and achieves wonderful results.  They specialize in writing and editing services, providing journalistic support, graphic and web design, and photography for events and products.  

“Sound” Advice to Save You Money in Audio Post-Production

How New Filmmakers Can Avoid Disasters in  Audio Post-Production for Their Films and Learn From an Expert How to Do it Right the Next Time

by Carole Dean

Jerry Deaton, President of AudioKut, has spent the last five years developing his company as one of the new breeds of boutique affordable audio post-production facilities. A donor to the Roy W. Dean Grants for many years, he has mastered the sound of many of our winners and our fiscally sponsored films too. His credits span from re-recording mixer, ADR mixer dialogue editor, to sound design editor, composer, and everything in between.

 audio post-production

“Hire those out of college because they probably have the gear, they have the time, and they’re willing to put the effort in. But, then also hire somebody who’s been doing it for a long time to come out to your location and just kind of check on them.”

Recently, Jerry decided to support filmmakers even more by teaching.  He now gives classes where students sit with him and learn on their own project how to fix and mix their films.  He also checks the final work if they need it.  All of this is on an hourly basis. 

Emerging filmmakers end up spending only a fraction of the cost for audio post and become better filmmakers in the process.  He walks them through all of the technical and creative steps of the process. 

I asked him to join me on my The Art of Film Funding Podcast to discuss his new class and how independent filmmakers can avoid audio mistakes that only show up when you get to post.

Choosing the Right Editing Software Can Save You Money in Audio Post-Production

Jerry said that sometimes it’s as simple as selecting the right software to save money.  The software new filmmakers choose may not do what they think. 

“I find first-or-second time filmmakers with small budgets are wearing several hats.  They are the producer, writer, director, editor and they are expected to know each of these professions intimately.  But, honestly, they don’t.  They don’t know enough so they choose the wrong software. 

“Let’s say they choose Final Cut Pro 10 to do their editing.  It may be a cheap and easy platform to work with but, after all those countless hours they put into editing, they find that when they’re ready to go to final picture lock, they cannot get the sound off in a professional manner.  

“You can’t turn it over to a post house.  You will have to do it in a very archaic manner to even get the sound out.  Then, it costs you much more money for the sound post house to basically re-cut that sound so that it’s workable in a post environment.” 

He suggests spending just a little bit more money and investing in a program like the Adobe Creative Suites or some other platform that will allow you to export your audio in a professional manner.  Just this alone will save so much time and headache down the line.

Getting Quality Sound and Saving Money for Micro Budget Filmmakers

“If an independent filmmaker is making a micro or low budget film,” Jerry suggests, “they need to be very careful in hiring a sound person. Preferably you want someone who has worked on other films.”

“However, there are a lot of filmmakers coming out of college that have been trained to do sound and in a theoretical environment.  When they get out of school and they want to get their first couple of jobs to build their resume. Then often, they’ll do an independent film for free. But what you’re going to get is somebody who may be making a lot of mistakes because they’re learning on your film. And, if I was the filmmaker, the producer, the director, I would not want that situation.”

He recommends filmmakers to go ahead and hire those out of college because they probably have the gear, they have the time, and they’re willing to put the effort in. But, then also hire somebody who’s been doing it for a long time to come out to your location and just kind of check on them.

“The expert needs to be able to tell you: ‘This guy or girl knows what they’re doing, don’t worry about it.’ Or if that expert says, ‘look, from what I see, your movie’s going to be really bad,’ then that’s worth paying for. That assurance wouldn’t cost you much. That visit could be done on an hourly basis.”

But a lot of producers and directors don’t know this is a possibility until they get to post and then they find the problems they have.

”If they called me and said, ‘this is our situation, we’re getting ready to do principal shooting in three weeks. You know, we’ve hired a sound person but we’re not sure they’re really going to be able to do the job.’ I would tell them, hire somebody from my company to come out and spot check.

“If they give a sign off, you’re good to go. And then, you can bring the package to us. This way, you will not get a bunch of surprise comments like, ‘Oh, why did that mike cut out or Oh, why is your refrigerator running during your love scene?’”

Stacking Sound Files Can Be Costly and Leave the Editor Without the Best Choice

“When editors receive their sound files from the sound mixer on location, they’re usually receiving them in a stacked formation. So, let’s just say a scene a will have eight files. That is one person talking. So, it’s eight files of that one person saying one line, but on eight different mikes or eight different situations, eight different audio captures. And then what happens is, when the editors bring those eight files into their editing platform, they tend to merge all those together. And when it gets to sound post, it’s a big problem to unmerge those so that you can choose the best recorded audio piece.

“So I would tell whoever is compiling all these sound files, it’s usually the editor or editors/director, that they should learn the technology behind doing this the right way so that when it does get to sound post, it doesn’t cost them extra money.

“These problems are created because people don’t know what to do with these files, they just look at them and think, I’ll just put them all together. It’s like, no, don’t do that.  They were made so you have the very best sound to choose from. That’s why they did it more than once.”

He thinks directors and editor/directors are learning a lot of their technical skills from YouTube tutorial videos. And that those are great because they do give you a lot of insight into the technology.

“But I still would tell a director/editor, hire somebody that’s been doing this for a long time. Bring them over to your editing suite and just have them walk you through how to navigate these waters. It would be probably the best, $75 or $100 an hour you’ve ever spent, and it would last them the rest of their career.”

Jerry Deaton’s Classes on Sound Recording & Editing

audio post-productionJerry’s new class evolved from all the errors he’s seen with independent filmmakers make on their films. He’s the one they call when they run into these massive problems.

“Some get into problems at a locked cut. If they’re at a lock cut, there’s nothing that can be done. It’s just repair mode. But if they call me before they’ve started filming and they need somebody to help walk them through the waters of sound, I do this for people.”

So, instead of waiting for calls from desperate filmmakers asking him to rescue them from a terrible sound issue, Jerry created his class.  He charges an hourly rate and will come out to the location or talk to the filmmaker in the editing bay. 

“I will say, look, do this and this, and it will help you avoid so many problems in the end.  And you can either bring it to me or you can bring it to any other sound post house who will be so grateful that you did this the right way.

“Remember five years ago, everybody had a department. Everybody was an expert in their department, so editors knew how to do this. Directors knew how to direct sound. People knew how to capture location sound and prepare for sound, post. People knew how to edit and, and deal with the audio and the post-process.

“But with one person wearing so many hats, you’re getting all these gaps in knowledge. The people that are wearing all these hats should really reach out to experts in every department of filmmaking and say, look, just give me a few hours, tell me what I’m doing wrong, let me fix it and then I’ll get back to you in three months when I’m done with my edit.”

You can reach Jerry Deaton at AudioKut.com.  You can send him an email at Jerry@audiokut.com or call 818 434 2601. 

His vision of the new Hollywood has connected him with many like minded independent film makers and support teams.  They understand big budgets do not necessarily make great films. It still takes talent, a good story and an artisan approach to technology.

 

Carole Dean is president and founder of From the Heart Productions; a 501(c)3 non-The Art of Film Funding Podcastprofit that offers the Roy W. Dean Film Grants and fiscal sponsorship for independent filmmakers. She hosts the weekly podcastThe Art of Film Fundinginterviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film productionShe is also the author of  The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  See IMDB for producing credits.

Win, Shoot, Get Film Score with Roy W. Dean Grant

Roy W. Dean Grant for Fall Offers Cash and Production Services Including Music

Roy W. Dean Film Grant for Fall

Production team from Roy W. Dean Grant Winner “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins”.  Film Will be in Theaters in September Across U.S.

The final Roy W. Dean Film Grant for Fall 2019 offers indie filmmakers a prize that should be music to their ears as well as their audience.   The winner receives $3,000 cash, $30,000 in film services to shoot and finish their project, including a film score! 

Award winning composer David Raiklen will give the grant recipient $15,000 in theme music for their project.  David provided music for the Emmy and Roy W. Dean Grant winning documentary “Mia: A Dancer’s Journey”. In addition, Emmy award winner Charlie Canfield will donate $6,000 in animation services to the winner.

The Roy W. Dean Grant for Fall

Now in its 27th year, the Roy W. Dean Film Grant seeks films that are unique and make a contribution to society.  Projects can be documentaries, short films, features, or web series. Deadline for submission is October 31st, 2019.

Other prizes include a one week DSLR camera package rental from Birns & Sawyer, $500 in expendables from Filmtools, a 20% discount on the design of your marketing sheet by award winning designer Dan Chapman, and much more from many heartfelt donors

Each Applicant Gets a Consultation on Their Project

Another unique part of the grant is each applicant for the grant is given the opportunity for a 15 minute consultation on their project from a member of the non-profit From The Heart Productions which sponsors the grant. 

More information about the grant can be found at https://fromtheheartproductions.com/roy-w-dean-film-grants-and-awards/

You can apply for the grant at https://fromtheheartproductions.com/grant-application-form/.  

For more information, please email info@fromtheheartproductions.com or call 805-984-0098

About the Roy W. Dean Film Grant 

Founded in 1992, the Roy W. Dean Grant seeks films that are unique and make a contribution to society that, without it’s help, might otherwise not get made. There is a Spring, Summer and Fall Grant. Films submitted to the grant can be short films, documentaries, features, and web series from early stages of pre-production to those needing help in post.

The grant has been integral in helping talented artists with great stories get their films produced. Recent past winners of the grant include the award winning “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream”, “Kusama-Infinity”, and Emmy winner “Mia: A Dancer’s Journey”.

About From the Heart Productions

The 501(c)3 non-profit which sponsors the grant was founded by Carole Dean in 1993 when she saw how many filmmakers with important and often controversial stories were having trouble getting financing for their films. The mission of From the Heart Productions is to educate and assist filmmakers in getting funding to create unique films that make a contribution to society.

Under their fiscal sponsorship program, From the Heart Productions offers advice and guidance to filmmakers looking to fundraise. It also allows donors to projects to get a tax deduction for their donations. Their Intentional Filmmaking Classes which teaches filmmakers the tactics on how to get funded is now open for enrollment. New classes start Sept 23rd.

What is Your Finished Film Worth?

I’m on mission to solve a mystery that is preventing independent filmmakers from fully realizing financial success. And, I need your help

by Carole Dean

It’s basic business 101.  When you start a business, you need to know how much money you will make from selling your product.  As an independent filmmaker you should know, before you even start, what you can expect to get when selling your film. Right now, that is nearly impossible. 

Let’s fix it.  

Selling Your Film

Photo ©Tokyo Lee Productions, Inc – Director Heather Lenz with artist Yayoi Kusama during production of Heather’s documentary “Kusama-Infinity”

Determining Your Profit

When I started my business, Studio Film & Tape, I knew exactly what to expect as profit.  I know because I set it. 

Back before the world of image capture went digital, you needed motion picture film to create a feature, documentary, or television series.  I bought back leftover motion picture film from studio productions.  I called that film short ends.  From buying millions of feet of short ends off of features and selling them at a discount to new film to independent filmmakers, I eventually created the one of the largest privately woman owned business in US. 

I decided that I could sell short ends of Kodak film stock if I put the selling price very low.  So, I set my purchase price accordingly.  I wanted a 45% gross profit and I was able to achieve that. Gross to me was the selling price less the cost of goods.  I had my books set up for this on a monthly basis.  If I did not see a 45% profit, then it was caused by one of two things: a mistake in the inventory or thief.  Believe me, I experienced both.

Filmmakers Are in the Dark

It is very simple to run a business with clarity like I just described.  Now, fast forward to today’s world with filmmakers creating budgets to make their features and documentaries.  As head of the non-profit, From the Heart Productions, we support hundreds of filmmakers each year.  I find most of them have no idea of what they can sell their film for. 

They are sure they will get into one of the top 10 film festivals. They are also sure that a distributor will take their film and pay prices paid at Sundance.  Some filmmakers think their film is perfect for Netflix.  But do they know the price Netflix will pay?  No.

They only know what they read in the papers when Netflix or Amazon makes a gigantic purchase at Sundance or Toronto.  Then, they use that number as a reference and believe that Netflix or Amazon will pay them the same price.  Please do not do this.  Anytime a selling price is in the papers, that means it is extraordinary.

Here is Where I Need Your Help

Filmmakers need to know what to expect from a sale of the finished product when preparing their budget.   How can you create a budget for a film when you don’t know if you will ever get that money back?  You can’t really or shouldn’t. 

I am asking every one of my filmmakers who has sold a project, “what did you get paid?” But I really want to gather as much information as possible.

This is where every filmmaker who reads this comes in.  If you sold your film, please, let me know the selling price.  You can be anonymous.  I just need numbers to create a data base for filmmakers to know what they can expect when selling their project.  Once I get enough reliable data then I can release it to everyone.  With this information, you can create a budget that will give you a profit.

What I’ve Heard So Far About Selling Your Film

Distributors that I’ve spoken with tell me that VOD (Video on Demand) will get you $3,000 to $5,000.  If you spend a lot of time and money marketing, you might make $15,000.00. 

What??? I thought VOD was the financial replacement of the DVD and that you could definitely get some of your $300K budget back.

Many filmmakers say to me, “I am sure Netflix will love my film.” That may be, but I am told by a reliable source that they pay $1,000 per completed minute for films with known actors and docs known actors voices or interviews.  That would mean your 90-minute feature or doc is now worth $90,000?   Since that is a buyout, how can you make back your budget if it’s over $100K?

One film distributor said that Netflix recently paid only $25,000 for a completed feature.  And that Hulu just paid $22,000 for a finished feature.  This is not good news.  I think it is interesting that both of them paid almost the same price.  How did that happen? 

Strength is Real Numbers

We need to find out what amount can be expected from a film sale.  Do you know? If not, please do some research.  Call people with similar films, ask them, “what did you sell your film for?” Please share with me. If they are reluctant, say, “Was it over $100K or under $100K?” Try to get an idea. You owe this to yourself so you can make a profit.

We must band together and find what are the current selling prices of films.  We have to be honest with each other and share this information. It’s not fair to those who are spending 6 years making documentaries or features who end up with a brilliant film and then ask, “Where’s the money?”  I find that It’s just not there for 90% of the filmmakers.

#WhatisYourFilmWorth

Together we can solve this mystery.  You can email me at CaroleLeeDean@gmail.com  and give me your selling price or some general idea of what it was.  You can be anonymous.  We need a central organizing place for all of us to talk about the amount paid for films.  I want to be this place.  You can call me as well at 805 201 2080.

Don’t mind letting let others know what you got for selling your film?  You can also let me know via Twitter.  We are at @fromtheheartprd.   Let us know what you got for your film with the hashtag #whatyourfilmisworth You will be helping us and others as well.

I see hundreds of films going through my film grant.  There are so many talented filmmakers there are across America.  I want them and all filmmakers to know the potential selling price when they create their budget.

Your time and talents are too valuable to give away. 

 

Carole Dean is president and founder of From the Heart Productions; a 501(c)3 non-The Art of Film Funding Podcastprofit that offers the Roy W. Dean Film Grants and fiscal sponsorship for independent filmmakers. She hosts the weekly podcastThe Art of Film Fundinginterviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film productionShe is also the author of  The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  See IMDB for producing credits.